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A TGB READER STORY: Seeking Safe Passage

By Barrie N. Levine who blogs at Into the 70s

Last Saturday morning, I attended religious services at my virtual synagogue. Setting up ZOOM was easy, a personal triumph. I loved the experience of sitting down with my mug of hot coffee in front of the computer, meeting my fellow congregants seeking comfort in troubled times.

The Rabbi read a modern translation of Psalm 92 that resonated with me. I can’t remember it word for word, something like, “Plant yourself exactly where you are...for six days, you are the gardener...but on this day (the Sabbath) you are the garden.”

In the afternoon, I left the isolation of my house for a walk in the fresh air. After a lengthy cold spell and then a week of soaking rain, New England sees the sun again. Pedestrians appeared in full force to savor the first mild day of spring.

Uh oh. Loud alarm bells go off in my head.

I live in a town of 3500 residents spread over eight square miles. The density of 632 persons per square mile is low compared to the adjacent city with density of 2804. Even so, the walk in my own neighborhood unsettled me from the outset.

At least every five minutes, I looked behind to see if walkers or joggers were gaining on me. I crossed the street even before awaiting their own courteous maneuver to let me pass.

If walkers came towards me, I made a split second decision of timing and direction. If I stepped off the curb, I had to avoid vehicles heading in my direction on the same side of the road.

The constant effort to keep from crossing paths kept me hopscotching all over the place. In my mind, my fellow outdoor adventurers emitted a radioactive glow. My fresh air walk turned out to be crazy-making.

I had planned to turn into the path to Long Hill, a small state property a mile up the street, and walk through the apple orchard to the gardens at the Great House. A locked gate and signboard in large red letters blocked my route: PROPERTY CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.

I returned home after a vigilant and exhausting hour that woke me up to the reality of the new order.

Walking around my yard, surrounded by woods and unbuildable wetlands, I saw that winter had done its usual damage leaving branches and twigs strewn about, boards hanging off the side of the woodshed.

Daffodils surprised me, as they always do—even the new bulbs I hadn’t managed to plant until mid-December pushed up their shoots through the wet ground. The garden shed barely survived another winter, with its peeling paint and busted up door, looking neglected but still functional.

All of it more beautiful than I ever remembered.

* * *

In my childhood, the danger would come from the sky.

The threat of nuclear war was the major national fear. You too may have experienced air raid drills: when the siren sounded, we hid under our school desks or in the halls to avoid the explosion, flying objects and radiation that might be real next time.

The principal monitored the hallways as we crouched against the lockers, our faces resting on our folded arms, our eyes shut tight like good little citizens.

Some families built bomb shelters in their backyards or basements, according to reports in Life magazine. I wanted one too to keep my mom and dad and brother safe.

Ultimately, no bombs landed on us. My parents, my school, and our President Eisenhower (term 1953-1961) protected me from harm.

As I write this in early April of 2020 - the year like no other - the coronavirus looms merciless, strong and agile. We work daily to sort out the information, coming at us from so many sources, to determine our own parameters, the parameters that keep changing, shaping - and hopefully saving - our lives and those dear to us.

Stay healthy, my good friends, safe in the place you are planted for now.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]

And Now, Hospice

As I mentioned a few blog posts ago, you know your time on Earth is winding down when the doctor says you are now eligible for hospice care. He or she makes that determination when your disease is no longer responding to medical attempts to cure it or slow its progress.

(Palliative care includes much of the same comfort care as hospice but also includes continued curative care.)

As of last Friday, I am officially in hospice which consists of an amazingly wide range of care. I will get to that but first, let's cover the most basic nuts-and-bolts questions:

  1. The goal of hospice is to support the highest quality of life possible for whatever time remains.

  2. Hospice care is most commonly provided at the patient's home but is also available at hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers and dedicated hospice facilities.

  3. In the United States, people covered by Medicare can receive hospice care if the physician thinks the patient has less than six months to live. Sometimes old people fool the doctors and live longer. Hospice can usually be re-certified for another six months. And another and...

  4. Hospice is generally paid for via Medicare, Medicaid, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and private insurance. Hospice programs differ, but many offer care based on need rather than ability to pay.

I had expected to go to the hospice offices for the introduction to their services, but no. The nurse came to me as will all hospice providers. For the past couple of months I tire more quickly and easily than before so this was a welcome surprise.

We spent the first couple of hours going through the explanatory binder that is my guide to the service and my care. I have a team now. A large team. A registered nurse who is also my case manager; a physician; an aide who is also a certified nursing assistant, can help with light housekeeping, help with laundry and such other tasks as become necessary, and regularly check my vitals and other indicators.

There are also a medical social worker to help with a wide range of personal and practical issues; a non-affiliated spiritual care counselor; volunteers who can provide companionship and various sorts of non-medical help.

There are more but those give you an idea of how comprehensive this hospice is. The nurse made it clear that all of their services are tailored to my specific needs and desires.

But wait. There is even more I would not have thought of. The hospice now takes care of most of my medications, delivered to my door. In my case, half are paid for by hospice now – they buy in bulk with attendant discounts, the nurse explained.

Others are paid for by my Medicare Part D coverage or by me but almost all are delivered on a regular schedule by hospice.

They also supply all needed medical equipment. Recall that it was Friday I met with the nurse for the first time. On Saturday, my new oxygen concentrator was delivered, hospice arranged for the previous one to be picked up next week by that provider, and the delivery person moved the old concentrator and big emergency tanks to a space near the front door so that I wouldn't need to tackle that. (They're heavy.)

I did nothing but stand around and open the door for the delivery man.

This taking over of the arrangements for drugs, oxygen pickup and delivery, and whatever else becomes necessary in the future is a relief to me. In the past two or three months or so, it has become more difficult for me to organize all the little things as their numbers increase. I manage to get them done but it takes a lot of effort, not to mention the annoyances when things go wrong which tire me.

By the way, my new difficulty in organization affects this blog too. You may have noticed that recently there are fewer items in Saturday's Interesting Stuff. That's because over all these years of doing it, I have probably viewed or read at least a dozen videos or stories for each item I publish.

But I'm slower now, I wear out more easily and have trouble keeping track of them – mostly due to a late-age distraction problem. Hence, fewer items on Saturdays.

Getting back to hospice, that binder the nurse left with me has sections on end-of-life legal documents, lists of best-practices in self-care, charts to track medications, home safety tips, a terrific daily journal where I can note emotional well-being, pain level, body responses, etc.

It's not that I need all these things necessarily or yet but they are there when I want to check something, they are smart and they are valuable.

I'm writing most of this on Saturday afternoon. That oxygen delivery man arrived on time, was friendly, made sure I know how to use the equipment and we had a nice time chatting too.

Later in the day, a different nurse from Friday telephoned to see how I am, whether I needed anything and to give me the name of my nurse/case manager who will visit today, Monday.

In the evening on Saturday, the emergency drug kit was delivered. This is kept in the refrigerator so it is immediately available if I have telephoned with an emergency and can help until the appropriate caregiver arrives.

What all of these people did – the nurse who enrolled me on Friday, the oxygen delivery man, the nurse who telephoned with some information I needed, the drug kit delivery person - was repeatedly remind me that if I need anything, from a serious medical problem to just any old question, to call them.

They are available 24/7 and there is always a real, live person, a registered nurse, to answer the phone.

As much as I appreciate every bit of this, it isn't easy for a woman who has always done everything for herself by herself. Unless I am bleeding profusely, I have always thought of it as an imposition on the other person to ask for help. Just recently, an old friend in New York City gave me a kindly lecture on the fact that she and I share that trait and now I need to let it go.

In just these three days, I already feel a relief knowing there are people who can help me with so much and I seem to be going along with them although I'm not completely comfortable yet.

But I'm getting there. Geez, I guess if you live long enough you learn all sorts of new things.

I don't know if this is an exceptional hospice or if all hospice care is as comprehensive and professional and comforting as this one but, as with the doctors and nurses who cared for me during the past three years, I seem to have landed in the best possible place for these last few miles of my journey.

What I do know for sure is that I have never heard about hospice from people who were familiar with it - family members, caregivers and a couple of patients - in anything but superlative terms.

If you have experience with hospice, do let us know about it in the comments below.

ELDER MUSIC: Toes Up So Far in 2020

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

* * *

It’s only half way through the year and already too many important musicians have died (a couple because of Covid-19 – it has a lot to answer for).

Little Richard

LITTLE RICHARD Penniman was one of the three or four most important and influential figures in the early days of rock and roll. He, along with the others, took the music to a wider audience, worldwide really, and made it the dominant force in popular music.

Unlike most other rockers, Richard played piano and wrote his own songs. He gave up music and turned to religion at least twice while he was still popular, but always came back to the music.

His songs have been covered by many artists, most appallingly by Pat Boone. No one performed them better, or more outrageously, than Richard himself. The song that kick started his career is Tutti Frutti. (He was 87)

♫ Little Richard - Tutti Frutti

BOBBY LEWIS was a soul singer who had a giant hit in 1960 with Tossin’ and Turnin’. He had a couple more songs that made the charts, and he kept performing until quite recently, which is remarkable when you consider his age. (97)

JIMMY COBB was a jazz drummer best known for playing on the Miles Davis album, “Kind of Blue”, one of the most important albums in history. He played on other Miles’ albums and later teamed up with several others who played on “Blue” to form their own group. Over the years Jimmy played with all the important jazz players. (91)

Barry Tuckwell

For much of his life, BARRY TUCKWELL was the world’s foremost French horn player. He initially studied piano, violin and organ but was given a French Horn when he was 13. He took to it right away, such that he was giving concerts within six months.

He was a member of both the Melbourne and Sydney Symphony Orchestras while still a teenager. He later was a member of the London and many other renowned Orchestras. He later went out on his own as a soloist, forming his own chamber group and also became a much in demand conductor.

Barry plays the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata for Horn and Piano in F, Op.17. (78)

♫ Beethoven - Sonata for Horn and Piano in F Op.17 (1)

JULIE FELIX was an American born singer whose biggest successes came in Britain. It was there where she recorded, toured and appeared on TV, most notably hosting her own program that featured many of the sixties biggest acts early in their careers. (81)

ELLIS MARSALIS was a jazz musician from New Orleans who started out playing saxophone but switched to piano which became his main instrument. He was the father to a family of jazz musicians who have become household names. (85)

David Olney

DAVID OLNEY died with his boots on. He was performing at a festival when he apologised to the crowd and died of a heart attack.

He was a songwriter of great skill and a poetic bent whose songs were recorded by many others, including Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Tim O’Brien and Del McCoury.

He began performing in the band X-Ray that he formed himself. After a couple of records he went out as a solo performer. Besides his songs, he also wrote poems and sonnets, appearing in Shakespeare festivals. He recorded more than 20 albums. From one of those, “Eye of the Storm”, David performs Queen Anne's Lace. (71)

♫ David Olney - Queen Anne's Lace

CARL DOBKINS JR was a singer and songwriter best known for his fifties hit My Heart is an Open Book. He appeared on TV frequently and later joined an Oldies tour. (79)

MILLIE SMALL was the first person to bring ska music to the world at large. Indeed, her song, My Boy Lollipop, is still the best selling ska record. She was born in Jamaica but went to live in England as a teenager and remained there for the rest of her life. (72)

Bill Withers

BILL WITHERS seemed destined to a career in engineering until he had a chance encounter with famed musician and producer, Booker T Jones (of Booker T and the MGs).

Booker produced Bill’s first album that contained the song, Ain’t No Sunshine. This song became a world number one hit for him. He had several other hits, including Lean on Me, Lovely Day, Just the Two of Us and others.

His music career was brief, only about 10 years as a big record company took over his contract and insisted he make music their way, in spite of his previous success. Bill was one of music’s good guys, maybe the best of the lot. Here is that first hit (with the 26 “I know”s). (81)

♫ Bill Withers - Ain't No Sunshine

STEVE MARTIN CARO was a founding member and singer for the rock group, The Left Banke. He wrote and sang their first and biggest hit, Walk Away Renée, about his brother’s girlfriend on whom he had a crush. (71)

PAUL ENGLISH was Willie Nelson’s long time friend, drummer and bodyguard – he started with Willie in 1955, and was with him until he died. He was the subject of a terrific song Me and Paul, one of Willie’s best. (87)

Kenny Rogers

KENNY ROGERS was a singer, songwriter, actor, record producer and entrepreneur. Although generally considered a country music performer, he had many crossover hits in the pop charts.

He started his career in the New Christy Minstrels. After that, he and some of the other Christys formed their own group, The First Edition. It was, as the lead singer of that group, he had his first hits.

He later performed on his own and occasionally collaborated with other artists, most notably Dolly Parton. Besides that, he acted in films and in TV programs. Instead of one of his famous hits, I’ve decided to include a lesser known, but really good song, Even a Fool Would Let Go. (81)

♫ Kenny Rogers - Even A Fool Would Let Go

JOSEPH SHABALALA was the founder and director of the singing group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They achieved worldwide fame when Paul Simon used them on his “Graceland” album and they toured with him to promote that record. Because of that, the group sold a huge number of records of their own music. (78)

MCCOY TYNER was a jazz pianist who initially worked with John Coltrane and later had a long solo career. His piano style was hugely influential and later jazz pianists started out imitating his style. (81)

Robert Parker

ROBERT PARKER was yet another fine New Orleans musician. He started out playing saxophone for Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, Huey “Piano” Smith, Irma Thomas and others.

He turned his hand to singing and started making records. Most of these were minor or regional hits, but he had one major success with the song Barefootin’. (89)

♫ Robert Parker - Barefootin'

PHIL PHILLIPS wrote the song Sea of Love, recorded it and saw that it hit the top of the charts. However, he received a pittance for it due to the nefarious dealings of his record company. The song has been used often on film soundtracks (especially the one with the same name). (94)

PETER SERKIN was a classical pianist most noted for his interpretation of the works of J.S. Bach. (72)

John Prine

JOHN PRINE was a songwriter who could break your heart with his songs. Then he would make you laugh with others, or even occasionally the same one. He wrote sensitively and movingly about old age while still in his twenties.

He was generally the best interpreter of his songs, but there are several memorable versions by other artists, generally female. John was done in by Covid-19. I like to think he’d find humor in that, although the rest of us wouldn’t.

I’ll play possibly my favorite song of his, Lake Marie. (73)

♫ John Prine - Lake Marie

BONNIE POINTER was a founding member of the singing group The Pointer Sisters. The four of them really were sisters. They were big in the seventies. Bonnie later had a successful solo career. (69)

BOB SHANE was the last of the original members of the Kingston Trio. The group pretty much single-handedly put folk music on the charts in the late fifties. (85)

Mirella Freni

MIRELLA FRENI was an Italian operatic soprano who started out singing lighter roles. Halfway through her career (of 50 years) she changed tack and started singing meatier parts.

She was born at the same time and lived next to Luciana Pavorotti. They appeared together numerous times. She was best at Mozart, Puccini, Donizetti and Verdi roles. You can hear just a bit of that from her interpretation of Un Bel Di Vedremo (One Fine Day) from Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly”. (84)

♫ Mirella Freni - Un bei di (Madama Butterfly)

ERIC WEISSBERG was an American multi-instrumentalist who became known as a banjo player after his version of Dueling Banjos was featured in the film “Deliverance”. Otherwise he had a successful career as a session musician and appeared on many artists’ records.


DON BURROWS was Australia’s most important and celebrated jazz musician for the last 70 years. He played flute, clarinet and saxophone. Over the years he’s played with the cream of the world’s jazz players as well as with symphony orchestras. (91)

Harold Reid

HAROLD REID was the bass singer for the Statler Brothers, probably the finest harmony singing group in country music. There was no one named Statler in the group, and only two of them were brothers, Harold and lead tenor Don.

Harold was the driving force of the group who achieved their initial success as Johnny Cash’s backing group. Johnny was instrumental in getting them a recording contract of their own. One of their biggest hits was Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott with Harold starting it off. (80)

♫ Statler Brothers - Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott

BETTY WRIGHT was a soul and rhythm and blues singer whose biggest success was in the seventies. She won a Grammy for best soul song and her music was sampled often by lesser performers. (66)

FLOYD LEE was a blues guitarist and singer who performed in New York’s subways and streets for many decades. He later found success as a recording artist and as the subject of an excellent documentary of his life. (86)

Lynn Harrell

LYNN HARRELL was one of the finest cello players of recent times. He had a good start in the classical music biz with a father who was an opera singer at the Met and a mother who was a violinist.

Lynn attended Juilliard but both parents died when he was in his late teens. By that time he had a gig in the Cleveland Orchestra. After that he played with many of the world’s great orchestra and often teamed up with pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy to play cello sonatas, especially those of Beethoven.

Here they are with the first movement of Sonata for Cello and Piano No.5 in D, Op.102 No.2. (76)

♫ Beethoven - Sonata for Cello and Piano No.5 in D Op.102 No.2 (1)

DARICK CAMPBELL was one of three brothers in The Campbell Brothers (as well as their nephew). They played “sacred steel” music, religious music with heavily amplified guitars, including the pedal steel. They were often joined by master blues pedal steel player Robert Randolph. The group was much admired by rock and blues musicians. (53)

KEITH TIPPETT was a British jazz pianist who also played prog rock. Although not a member, he played with such groups as King Crimson and the Soft Machine, as well as gigs with his wife, the musician Julie Driscoll. (72)

Vera Lynn

VERA LYNN was a British singer, songwriter and entertainer who became a huge success with her songs during the Second World War, not just in Britain but around the world as well. She performed for troops in Egypt, Burma and India and elsewhere.

She thought that her singing career would be over when war broke out but that was proved wrong. She kept singing afterwards for several decades and never lost her popularity. I had to play her most famous song, We’ll Meet Again, her signature tune. (103)

♫ Vera Lynn - We'll Meet Again



The Youtube page tells us:

”In this moving interview, anti-racism pioneer Roy Hackett - who is now in his 90s - reveals the extraordinary level of racism he faced when he first arrived in the UK in the 1950s.

“Following the Black Lives Matter protests and the removal of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, some have called for a statue of Roy Hackett to be erected in its place. This interview was recorded in 2019.”

TGB reader, Mary Evans Young, who emailed this video for us, noted in her message that “this happens to be about Britain but it could be many countries: US, Australia, France...Black Lives Matter.”


Remember in last week's Interesting Stuff, when I told you that the Barcelona's Liceu opera house, after being closed for several months, would re-open on Monday with a special string quartet performance for plants in the audience?

Well, they did it. Take a look:


Same in that they share music and vegetables together.

Have you ever heard of the Vegetable Orchestra of Vienna? Neither had I. Here's what the YouTube page says:

”The members of Vienna’s Vegetable Orchestra have been playing with their food for more than 20 years. But when they do, it becomes a work of art. These musicians literally play freshly cut vegetables sourced from local markets.

“And who knew carrots, eggplants, red peppers and other veggies could sound so good? This unique ensemble play a piece they composed just for us, all from their own homes. It’s called Green Days.


I remember this event when it happened and had not thought about it since then until it popped onto my screen while I was looking for something else a few days ago.

It was November 1970. A huge, dead sperm whale landed on a beach in Florence, Oregon. It was smelly and...well, let's hear the story from the local KATU Channel 2 news reporter, Paul Linnman. The video looks like this because it's 50 years old.

You can find out more at Mental Floss. There is even a website devoted to it.


Last week I posted a flower video here and now, TGB reader Jane Seskin has sent another beauty.


This is from the Save the Orangutan organization which “supports the world's largest orangutan rehabilitation centre where more than 500 orangutans are given a second chance,” the YouTube page tells us.

At the centre - Nyaru Menteng - the orangutans are learning all the skills necessary to one day return to Borneo's rainforest. You can help the orangutans by adopting one here.


It arrived just in time for Juneteenth.

The world knows the recording of “Never Gonna Break My Faith, a duet by Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige. It won best gospel performance at the 50th Grammy Awards in 2008.

But wait, there was another version of the song, a solo by Aretha backed by the Boys Choir of Harlem. As AP reports,

”'This solo version has been sitting on my computer for years, and when I heard Clive [Davis of Sony Music] was making a film on Aretha’s life, I sent this version to him. The world hasn’t heard her full performance and it really needed to be heard,' Grammy-winning singer Bryan Adams, who co-wrote the song, said in a statement. 'I’m so glad it’s being released, the world needs this right now.'”

The newly-produced video that goes with it includes images of protest marches from the 1960s and from the current Black Lives Matter movement. I'm pretty sure you're not going to forget this. I know I won't.

* * *

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog.

Visiting Old Friends Plus The Alex and Ronni Show

Let me get past that too cute headline right away: the referenced “old friends” are books, my books. There have always been books. I have always called them my friends. I do not recall life without books.

In the last year or two, books have begun to accumulate in small-ish piles around the house mainly because I'm running short of shelf space but also out of laziness. Books impart a sense of coziness that the piles seem to enhance.

Just last week I wrote a bit about browsing through Still Here by Ram Dass (remember the frog story?) which has since led to me to search out my copies of some other books by him.

I am part way through Walking Each Other Home written with his life-long friend Mirabai Bush which was published a year or so before Ram Dass died in 2019. It is subtitled, “Conversations on Loving and Dying”. The book is also about living because talking about death is not possible without talking about life.

Do you mark up your books? I do. I highlight the parts I think I will want or need to read again. Of course, the problem with that is in time I forget the context of the highlighted portion so I need to back up and read the lead-in and next thing I know I'm re-reading the whole book.

Ram Dass has been talking (and teaching) about death and dying pretty much since we, the public, first became aware of him in the 1960s. While tracking down some information about him the other day, I came across a print interview done when yet another of his books, Polishing the Mirror, was published in 2014.

The interview was conducted by journalist and author David Crumm who has covered religion and spirituality throughout his long career. The full conversation is worth your time but these two excerpts stick with me.

”RAM DASS: When you get old, everything changes - your body changes, your family changes. You can’t do what you’ve always done, anymore. And, either you can complain about things changing - or you can be content. Instead of complaining, you can say: 'Oh, yesss! Look at all this change!' You can welcome it.”

As I spend some of my time these days taking stock of my 79 years, the surprises are sometimes about how lucky I have been. Not lucky in riches or love, but in ideas that have served me well. I can't claim to have arrived at them from deliberate study or contemplation or even having idly wondered about them. They were just there for me when I needed them.

One of them is precisely what Ram Dass says about growing old in that quotation: “ can say: 'Oh, yesss! Look at all this change!' You can welcome it.”

This entire blog for more than 16 years is the product of that idea that came to me sometime in the early 2000s when I was first researching what it is really like to get old.

What I slowly came to understand in the years that followed but did not actually grok until I read this interview is that old age is not a single stage of life. It is at least two, maybe three and could easily be several more than that. Ram Dass:

”DAVID: And now we’ve come full circle to our previous interview, haven’t we? I remember interacting with you, at that time, just a few years after your stroke when Still Here was coming out - and that book supposedly held your teachings on Aging, Changing and Dying.”

”RAM DASS: (Still smiling broadly.) When we talked, I had written that book about what I thought aging and dying was all about. But I was in my 60s. Now, I’m in my 80s and this new book talks about what it’s really like.

“Now, I am aging. I am approaching death. I’m getting closer to the end. (He pauses, tilts his head back and looks out at the Pacific.) I was so naive when I wrote that earlier book. Now, I really am ready to face the music all around me. (And he laughs.)”

Me too. Or, at least I'm getting there. Thank you, Ram Dass.

* * *

On Wednesday, my former husband, Alex Bennett, and I recorded another episode The Alex and Ronni Show. We spent the greater portion of it with me haranguing him for complaining about not receiving his mail-in ballot for the recent primary election in New York and not taking any action to remedy the problem.

Although I believe it is the sacred duty of every citizen in a democracy to vote, I had no idea I was that adamant about each of us doing everything in our power to make it happen.

You can check out Alex's online talk show here.

How's the Pandemic Going For You?

Among many of the people I speak with regularly there are, these days and for a long time now, two topics of conversation: COVID-19 and Trump - except when one crosses over with the other producing a third topic, the mashup, Trumpvirus.

You would think by now that we would see each day's new Trump outrage as ho-hum. After all, he has been saying and doing stupid, corrosive, racist, corrupt, mean things and lying about them since he first rode down that escalator in Trump Tower in 2015.

Increasingly, it appears to me, the subject when friends and I speak is the mashup. Take yesterday. After Trump's minions insisted for two days that he was kidding in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when he said he had ordered his people to slow down virus testing, he said he never kids. He really did order a virus test slowdown, he told the cameras.

How deeply grotesque is that? Hand washing, distancing and testing are the only tools we have against the pandemic. Puny as they are, they're all we've got. What kind of hideous monster deliberately sabotages one of them?

And yet, mostly now I am so deeply weary, so depleted by his daily attacks on this, that and everyone he thinks has done him wrong (which is everyone, apparently, except his henchman Bill Barr), that I just want it to stop. Just please stop.

Sometimes I remind myself that I won't be here to see whatever the outcome will be like from the virus, the trashed economy, the Black Lives Matter movement and even Trump. I can't do anything.

But as helpless as I am, I still care. And most of all, the problem is Trump.

Some countries like New Zealand, Iceland, Australia and much of western Europe have shown us what good leadership could have looked like against the virus in the United States. Too bad for us.

People keep getting sick by the tens of thousands a day. People keep dying. Hospitals are running out of beds again. And PPE too. And here's what no one I've seen has said: Trump doesn't care. It's true. He doesn't care.

There are days when the awfulness of it all just paralyzes me. Today is one of them. How about you?

A TGB READER STORY: Following Doctor’s Orders – Unexpectedly and Reluctantly

By David Astley of xyzAsia

My heart specialist has a wicked sense of humor. Every six months when I visit her for my checkup, I walk through the door of her consulting room and she says: “Wow, you are still here. I thought you’d be dead by now.”

I’m 71 and I have severe atherosclerosis caused by a combination of high cholesterol, stress and 25 years of cigarette smoking (commenced in the years when there were no health warnings about the dangers of smoking).

Atherosclerosis is hardening of the arteries. Its severity is measured by the amount of calcium in the plaque deposited inside the arteries. This is determined by means of a CT scan and patients are given a “calcium score”. A score of 0-100 is good. Anything above 400 is bad. My calcium score is 1500 – or “off the scale” as my doctor calls it.

That puts me into the top five percent of candidates for a heart attack or stroke, but apart from one angina incident about 12 years ago, I’ve not felt like I have a serious health issue.

Sure, I can’t climb mountains like I used to, and anything more than about 50 steps uphill leaves me out of breath, but aside from that I still feel healthy.

My doctor keeps telling me that I need to slow down and take things easy but every time I’ve tried to do that, I get bored. So bored that I feel I’m going to die of boredom, not a heart attack.

So I’ve kept working because deep down I’m hoping my doctor has got it wrong about my risk of a heart attack. After all, my Dad is still alive and well at 97, and he smoked and had high cholesterol too.

I’m not working for anyone except myself now. The stress that contributed to my atherosclerosis came from 30 years of working in the television industry trying to manage on-air personalities with egos that often exceeded their talent, audiences that you could never satisfy and boards of directors and shareholders who wanted to squeeze more profits from the stations for which I worked.

So it was with some relief that I “retired” 10 years ago and left behind the world of endless meetings and office politics and set out on a new journey on my own. I had started my media career as a travel journalist and that was how I was going to end it.

I now travel, write and edit a blog for older travelers and contribute to travel magazines. And I enjoy every minute of it - that was, until three months ago when the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Now with borders closed around the world, limited flights and quarantine lockdowns in many countries, my “new career” as a travel writer has come to an abrupt halt.

Like many others, I’m stuck in my home office nervous about venturing out for groceries, paranoid about getting a haircut, wondering about how long it will take to develop vaccines and most of all, missing the buzz of boarding a flight with my laptop and camera to visit a new destination.

There’s only so much that a travel writer can do from home. An article about virtual tours maybe, one about preparing for future trips perhaps and others about countries that have brought the pandemic under control and are planning to reopen their borders to socially distancing tourists.

After that, the boredom sets in. I tried venturing onto some Facebook travel groups the other day to relieve the boredom. I got involved in a debate about whether blocking middle seats on aircraft would help prevent the spread of the virus from asymptomatic carriers. I commented that any amount of social distancing would surely be a help.

The response was horrifying. A Facebook user from Indiana replied: “Crawl back into your cave old man” and suggested that the coronavirus was an ideal way to rid the world of old people who were a drain on social security systems.

We had to die to save the economy, he said. Many other forum members “liked” his comment.

Needless to say, my venturing onto the Facebook debating stage was short-lived. For the time being I will return to my cave and try to cope with boredom as best I can. My heart specialist will be pleased that I’ve slowed down, but this is not the way I had envisaged spending these precious years of my life.


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[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]

When You Stop Chasing the Wind

Saturday was the third anniversary of my Whipple surgery, that 12-plus-hours-long procedure available to about 20 percent pancreatic cancer patients. The procedure involves the removal of part of the pancreas, the entire gall bladder, the duodenum, a portion of the stomach along with a few other bits and pieces.

The five-year survival rate after the Whipple is 20 to 25 percent. Given that the five-year survival rate for all pancreatic cancer patients is under 10 percent, I have been living on golden time.

(I've sometimes wondered why the medical community chose five years for measuring survival rates. Three years with such a dire disease seems pretty good to me.)

The odd thing is that I don't recall noticing the date on the first and second anniversaries. Surely I must have made note of them but who knows. I've discovered during this journey that my mind sometimes has a mind of its own.

On the day I was given my diagnosis, I had no trouble deciding I would not pursue what are politely called “alternative cancer treatments” but should be labeled quackery. (See this report on a 2019 Yale Cancer Center study of alternative cancer treatments.)

My reasoning then was (and still is) that the doctors and nurses who have been treating cancer for years know a whole lot more than I do about what works and what doesn't and that if there were a miracle cure, we would all know about it.

So I put myself in hands of the medical people, followed their instructions carefully and here I am these three years later.

What is far less straightforward and for which there are no doctors and nurses to help, is the question of how to live with a deadly disease day in and day out for whatever time is granted. Shouldn't something change?

For nearly six months after the Whipple I was in recovery mode with energy and physical capabilities severely limited. Without putting a whole lot of thought to it during that time, I continued to write this blog - sitting at a computer doesn't impinge much on one's body – as I gradually regained my strength.

The doctors and particularly the nurses were good at explaining chemotherapy side effects when that treatment was started and except for two or three days after an infusion, life was close to what it had been before cancer (and in 2019, COPD) intruded.

It was then that I began thinking more earnestly about whether I was spending my time in the best possible way. Generally, I've settled for continuing to do the simple things I've attended to each day since I was first made aware of the cancer.

Still, death seems to be such a monumental event that it should require a proportional response. I'm not saying that's true, just that it feels that way sometimes and the intrusion of that thought interrupts the comfort of my routine.

Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi came close to saying what I think I am experiencing – or, beginning to experience - in the last entry of the journal he wrote which was published after his 2016 death as When Breath Becomes Air:

”Everyone succumbs to finitude,” he wrote. “I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past.

“The future, instead of the ladder toward goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.”

Since I'm still asking the question now and then, I haven't reached the state of being-here-now that Kalanithi describes. But I think he's right and I also think that if I'd just leave myself alone, I'm heading in that direction and doing just fine.

ELDER MUSIC: Classical Whatnot 3

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

* * *

Here is another container to hold various things. Those things are some interesting classical music. Well, they’re interesting to me; I hope they are to you too.

When the name Water Music is mentioned most of us (including me) think of Mr Handel. However, that Georg wasn’t the only one who wrote music with that name. Another was GEORG PHILIPP TELEMANN.


This Georg was a good friend of J.S. Bach and J.S. named one of his sons after him. Georg is generally considered to be the most prolific composer in history, and pretty much everything he wrote was of the highest order, and these aren’t short pieces – Table Music went on for hours.

This one’s a bit shorter, well the bit I have included is, the whole thing is quite lengthy. This is the Overture in C Major, TWV 55D3, from his Water Music.

♫ Telemann - Water Music Overture In C Major

Speaking of Mr HANDEL, here he is with something from his best known work.


That, of course, is “The Messiah”, these days mostly called Handel’s Messiah. From that we have How Beautiful are the Feet, sung by SIOBHAN STAGG.

Siobhan Stagg

I don’t know whose feet he was talking about. It could be my mum’s which were really splendid, and she complained that her best feature was generally covered up.

♫ Siobhan Stagg - How beautiful are the feet (Handel's Messiah)

A double bass concerto is not something you hear every day. They’re pretty rare but there are examples. Some of the best were by Ditters Von Dittersdorf, a friend of Haydn and Mozart with whom he played string quartets.

Another is Johann Vanhal, who was the fourth member of the group. I can imagine the chat after they were done playing: “You know, nobody has written a double bass concerto”. “You’re right, why don’t you do it?” “No, you do it.” “No, you.” “Your turn.” And so on.

None of these folks are who we have today, it is GIOVANNI BOTTESINI.


Gio didn’t play music with any of the others because he was born too late. He was a double bass virtuoso though, something that really didn’t happen again until jazz occasionally put the instrument front and centre.

Gio was taught music by his father, who played the clarinet. I imagine that he kicked himself whenever he had to lug his instrument around that he didn’t follow dad’s lead.

Anyway, he wrote several dozen compositions for the instrument as well as more standard fare, like operas, string quartets, symphonies and the like. Getting back to his instrument, here is the first movement of his Double Bass Concerto No 2 in B Minor.

♫ Bottesini - Double Bass Concerto in B Minor (1)

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH wrote his second piano concerto for the birthday of his son, Maxim.


Maxim played the premiere of the work at his graduation from music college. This is an uncharacteristically cheerful composition (although less so in this movement), unlike most of Dmitri’s output; well he had to satisfy Stalin, no mean enterprise.

As often happens with such works, the critics dismiss it and the public really likes it. I’m one of the public. Thus, here is the second movement of his Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, Op. 102.

♫ Shostakovich - Piano Concerto No. 2. in F major Op. 102 (2)

I’ve devoted a whole column (I’ll finish it one day) to LUIGI BOCCHERINI but before I get to that, here’s a sample of his music.


Although Italian, Luigi spent much of his life in Spain. He was a cello player (as was his dad, who taught him) and he wrote many works that featured the instrument prominently. He also used the guitar quite a bit, probably due to the Spanish influence.

Today we’re back to his first love, along with a bunch of other instruments in his Concerto for Cello, 2 Oboes, 2 Horns and Strings in D No 10, G 483. The third movement.

♫ Boccherini - Concerto for Cello 2 Oboes 2 Horns and Strings in D No 10 G 483 (3)

JOHANN NEPOMUK HUMMEL, what a splendid name, wasn’t the first to write a trumpet concerto for the new keyed trumpet, the sort we have today, but he came close.


At the time he was Kapellmeister at the Esterházy court, a post that Joseph Haydn held for 30 years before him. It was this Jo who pipped our Jo at the post with the first such concerto.

The instrument was designed by famed trumpeter Anton Weidinger who commissioned the work today. He was a friend of both of them and they both saw the possibilities in the new instrument. So, here’s Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto in E or E flat major, WoO 1, S. 49, the third movement.

♫ Hummel - Trumpet Concerto in E or E flat major WoO 1 S. 49 (3)

PHILLIP WILCHER is possibly not generally known to most of the readers of this column, but just ask someone under 7 or 8 years old and they can probably tell you.

Phillip Wilcher

Phillip was an original Wiggle, but he didn’t have a distinctive colored shirt as he left the group before they adopted those. Others might say, “What’s a Wiggle?” That’s why you need to ask a young person.

Besides his Wiggling activities Phil is a composer of really fine music, including his Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello. This is the fourth movement.

♫ Wilcher - Piano Trio (4)

RADAMÉS GNATTALI was a Brazilian composer, conductor and orchestrator of the 20th century.

Radamés Gnattali

Boyd & Metcalf are Australian classical guitarist RUPERT BOYD with American cellist LAURA METCALF, acclaimed soloists in their own right, and just happened to be married to each other.

Boyd & Metcalf

They perform the first movement of Rad’s Sonata for Cello and Guitar.

♫ Gnattali - Sonata for Cello & Guitar (1)

Along with Mozart, GIACOMO PUCCINI is my favorite composer of operas.


One of his best known is La Bohème. From that we have the scene from the first act where Rodolfo and Mimi get to know each other. Here we have David Hobson (especially for Norma, The Assistant Musicologist) and Cheryl Barker (especially for me) from a performance staged by the Australian Opera a little while ago.



Next Monday, Barcelona’s Liceu opera house will reopen. A string quartet will play Puccini's Crisantemi (Chrysanthemums) for a special audience.


As The Guardian reports,

”Well aware of the need to return with a spectacle as grabby as a venus flytrap, the Catalan venue has announced a concert for 2,292 plants when it reopens next Monday...

“Eugenio Ampudia, the conceptual artist behind the concert, said it aimed to reflect what has happened across Spain and around the world as the Covid-19 pandemic has forced people to retreat from shared public areas.”

The concert will be live-streamed for humans at home.

“When the strings fall silent and palms have been duly pressed together in appreciation, the plants will be donated to 2,292 health workers as thanks for their efforts over recent months.”

Read more at The Guardian.


TGB reader Jennifer sent this video. The YouTube page explains,

”The top floor of one of the city's active sanitation garages houses a very large and highly curated collection, assembled by ex-garbage man Nelson Molina.”

Definitely worth your time.


Quoting Daily Kos, long-time political blogger, Digby, passed on Dr. Anthony's Fauci's explanation of the government's lies about the public wearing masks:

"Well, the reason for that is that we were concerned [that masks]...were in very short supply. And we wanted to make sure that the people, namely the health care workers who were brave enough to put themselves in harm’s way, to take care of people who you know were infected with the coronavirus and the danger of them getting infected."

Bad enough all by itself, but Digby elegantly points out how awful those lies are:

”Everything I have read about standard pandemic response is that it is vital for public health officials to tell the truth. If they don’t, they lose credibility and nobody will believe them when they give the public health guidance.

“Can you see the problem here? By lying to the pubic instead of saying 'we don’t have enough medical masks to go around so please just make a cloth mask or use a scarf or bandana' from the very beginning we might not be dealing with this nonsense where people think masks are some kind of political plot.

“Instead, they very adamantly insisted that masks were bad and would actually cause you to get the virus, even though they knew that wasn’t so. It was a major error.”

She is exactly right. I stopped listening to anything Dr. Deborah Birx says after she told us how Trump is “attentive to the scientific literature and the details.” A laughable assertion to any sentient being who has watched him speak.

Read more at Digby's Hullabaloo.


A baby cow was spotted in a flooded field after Hurricane Harvey. She was very sick, but she fought hard get better. This is the story of Harveigh the cow.


As you might imagine, these days death and all that it might mean is a topic not far from my mind. Recently, I rediscovered this short film, The Life of Death. From the Youtube page:

” Death goes about his daily job of taking the lives of animals in the forest, he comes across a lovely doe. He falls in love with her and can't bring himself to take her life and so they slowly become close friends.”

But in the end, the doe will teach Death that dying is also part of Life. The film maker is Marsha Onderstijn.


A New York City TGB reader, Ann Burack-Weiss, sent this video which has won a whole bunch of awards. The film maker, Majo Chudy tells us:

”It took nine months to capture a total of more than 40,000 shots. The video is composed of 24,626 shots...Just over three minutes of video shows incredible 929 hours of real time.”

* * *

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog.

From Sex to Old Age, From Ram Dass

My library of books on ageing, death and dying numbers in the hundreds, most of them collected over the past 25 years. I've never cleaned out the detritus so quite a few that were not worth the effort to read still hang around on shelves.

Even so, no matter what interests me at a given moment in regard to those subjects, there is always someone within all those pages of the worthy books who knows more than I do or can say it so much better than I or who is wiser than I could hope to be.

Now and then, I pull out a book at random. Earlier this week, it was Still Here – Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying by Ram Dass, a man I had first encountered when he still called himself Richard Alpert and, with Timothy Leary, studied the therapeutic effects of psychedelic drugs at Harvard.

(You remember LSD, “Tune in, Turn on and Drop Out,” etc. from the 1960s, don't you? If not, you'll find a brief overview of Ram Dass's life at Wikipedia.)

He first attracted my attention with the psychedelic work and I never stopped reading him thereafter.

Flipping through the book this week, I stopped at a chapter about how our roles in life change as we grow older. He opens one section on dwindling interest in sex with a wonderfully funny frog story that is so good it would be enough by itself for today's blog post. And so I'll tell it to you verbatim:

”An older man is walking down the street one afternoon when he hears a voice saying, 'Pssst – could ya help me out?' He looks around but there's nobody there.

“He starts to walk on, and again he hears, 'Pssst – could ya help me out?' Once again he stops and looks around, and again, there's nobody to been seen. But this time he looks more carefully, and happens to glance down at the sidewalk, where he sees a huge frog.

“Though he's a little embarrassed to be talking to a frog, he asks: 'Did you speak to me?'

“Much to the man's surprise, the frog answers. 'Yes, indeed. Could ya help me out?'

“The man is intrigued and asks, 'Well, what do you want?'

“The frog replies, 'Well, I'm under a curse. If you would kiss me, I would be freed of the curse and I would turn into a beautiful woman who would love you and serve you. I would care for you, warm your bed, and make you so happy!'

“The man stands there for a moment, reflecting, and then picks up the frog, puts it into his pocket, and walks on. After a few minutes the frog says, 'Hey! You forgot to kiss me.'

“And the man says, 'You know, at my age, I think it might be more interesting to have a talking frog.'”

Isn't that fun twist on the old kiss-a-frog story? I must have read it when the book was published in 2000 - I know because the story is highlighted in yellow – but it was as fresh this time as if it were brand new to me. (So much for my memory.)

Ram Dass takes off from there to discuss how we feel our diminishing sexual passions as a loss and wonder, perhaps, who or what we are without those feelings.

”Well into my 50s,” writes Ram Dass, “I spent a great deal of energy on my sexual appetites, and on appearing sexually attractive to those around me. The older I became, however, the less power that sexual currency seemed to wield.

“People seemed to treat me differently – they treated me with less desire but more respect, and at first this shift around ambivalent feelings...

“These regrets lasted for a number of years before I was able to settle down and relinquish the self-pity of the past.

“When this finally happened, I was amazed by how much more time and attention I had for other things in my life when the trumpets of sexual desire quieted down.”

That happened to me too, exactly so, and to other women Ram Dass spoke with who, he writes,

” confusion, if not distress, over how the culture views them once their roles – as sex object, wife, or mother – are taken away. As one woman said to me, 'I'll walk down the street, and nobody even sees me. I feel like I don't exist anymore.'”

I went through a long period – years – feeling just like that woman; I have even used the same words to describe it. Gradually, I came to accept and enjoy my place as an older and then old woman. (Writing a blog about what it's like to grow old for many years certainly helped.)

But that is a personal accomplishment, not a cultural one. Ram Dass notes that given the state of American society, younger people are not going to spontaneously ask for our insight and wisdom. It was 20 years ago he wrote that and not much has changed since then.

However, as I've discovered over many years of reading him, Ram Dass often has another answer:

“Aging consciously, we will naturally begin to manifest those qualities that our society needs in order to survive – qualities like sustainability, justice, patience, and reflection.

These are qualities that can only come from the space of dispassionate perceptual Awareness which age invites us to explore.”

“Awareness which age invites us to explore.”

At the risk of breaking an arm trying to pat myself on the back, I think this is what I have been doing, or trying to do especially since my cancer diagnosis, and it has been three years of the most productive and satisfying of my (inner) life.

Does any of this strike a chord with you?

Coronavirus Prevention - Crabby Old Lady is So Confused

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Crabby Old Lady was curious about how people react to COVID-19 news and what their impressions are if, unlike her, they don't read as widely. So Crabby took a break and cut her news consumption in half for a few days mostly in regard to the virus.

She didn't take notes and is relying on memory for this post which is probably more like most people read.]

* * *

Wearing a mask any time a person is among others and keeping a distance of six feet between any two people make sense to Crabby. Especially so when you know these two practices along with frequent hand washing are the only tools we have to help prevent COVID-19 infections.

But the information we get is inconsistent, confusing, changes frequently and sources of it are not always trustworthy.

Remember a hundred years ago – oh, all right, three months ago – when they said we the public don't need masks, that they are for healthcare workers? It turns out that was lie told, according to some, only because there were not, in the beginning, enough masks to go around.

Others say masks protect others, not one's self. Crabby has never bought that but she wouldn't bet money on what she know about science or medicine. What she does understand is that she feels more protected wearing one and is happy to help keep others healthy.

Masks are becoming more available now and there is a fairly large cottage industry of home-made masks throughout the United States. Still, Crabby has questions.

Every recent mention of wearing masks specifies “cloth” masks. But Crabby sees people wearing black face masks that appear to be made of rubber or pliable plastic. Are those better than cloth? What about the usually blue-colored paper masks with the folds? Do they do the job? No one is telling Crabby.

They say we should always be at least six feet from other people. That is, Crabby guesses, unless you are a White House reporter. Last week, the White House moved the Rose Garden chairs for the press corps close together because, according to reports, the president not only refuses to wear a mask, he doesn't like seeing crowds all spread out.

Like mask wearing, social distancing seems to have become a personal choice. Crabby doesn't go anywhere these days except to the pharmacy and the supermarket - all in one building in her case.

There are arrows on the floor making aisles one way streets. Handy, but most shoppers appear to see this as a suggestion only, and the two shopping-carts between people rule? Hardly anyone does it except at the check-out counter where checkers refuse to continue until a too-close second person backs away.

It's frustrating. In the apartment complex where she lives, Crabby spends a lot of time stepping off the pathways to avoid other residents not wearing masks on her way to and from the mail box and trash bins.

At first, they said old people and those with compromised immune systems were most in danger of infection and death. Then some little kids became seriously ill and some have died.

There are some new reports that younger adults, age 20 to 40 are now considered equally susceptible to the virus but others maintain that it is still elders who are most at risk. Crabby has no idea what is correct.

Over last weekend, Crabby read several reports that current spikes in infection numbers are not the so-called “second wave” - that we're still in the first wave.

Then on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that the United States may not see a second wave in the fall and that the number of hospitalizations is more important than infection numbers in determining that. But as of Monday, it was reported that several states are running short of hospital beds.

So where are we? First wave? Second wave? Getting worse? Getting better? As far as Crabby Old Lady can tell from conflicting reports, there is no way to know.

In the past couple of weeks, a whole bunch of states have allowed restaurants, hair salons, gyms, bars and other businesses where people congregate in close quarters to reopen under certain rules. The rules were broken as soon as the doors opened and the number of infections is skyrocketing.

Crabby could go on but it's repetitive. There is no one source of reliable information and as soon as one “expert” says XXX is so, some other “expert” says no, YYY is so. Is it any wonder Crabby is confused? How about you?

On Monday's post, quite a few of your responses repeated my “bugger that” comment. It is not a common phrase of mine and I suspect it reveals that I have been watching way too many old episodes of NCIS: Los Angeles.

“Bugger that” or “bugger all” is a favorite epithet of Hetty Lange, played by Linda Hunt, when she's pissed off.


By Fritzy Dean

I can’t remember when I didn’t love words. I can remember when I thought they were little dead ants on the paper. That was before I learned about the alphabet. That alphabet breakthrough was the magic day I broke the code and started my real love affair with words.

My love only grew stronger and deeper the more I dove into books. I was (and am) a voracious reader - from cereal boxes and medicine bottles to Mark Twain and Charles Dickens to Jane Austin and beyond. Too many to name or number.

For many years my love of words was expressed solely through reading. I was never without a book or two at hand. At some point, I started paying attention to the craft of writing. I noticed how the writer had developed characters and plot. I watched how she hooked the reader into turning page after page.

Then, when I was past 70 years old, I joined a writer’s group. It was a memoir writing class and it was sponsored by Inprint. I was scared, but passionately wanted to learn.

I was encouraged by the other writers and, eventually, by the instructor. This class kept the same schedule as the academic calendar with two semesters and a long summer break. I was like a starving person when we broke for summer.

I searched for a summer replacement and found a creative writes group at a local community center. This class was totally different. It was called creative writing and we were usually given a writing prompt and on the spot had to make up a story! Talk about scared!

I had gotten accustomed, sort of, to writing personal essays but I was sure I could NOT just grab a story out of the air. Turns out, I could. I was a happy, engaged productive writer. It felt good.

So for a good number of years I went to Creative Writing on Tuesday and Memoir writing on Wednesday. In addition, I had added volunteering at my local elementary school, helping shaky little readers improve. I thought my love for words had found its fullest expression.

Then I learned about a Store Telling Group. It meets once month to exchange stories. I get to work on my memory and hear excellent story tellers and I get good encouragement from the others, including insightful feedback.

I have had the thrill of seeing my byline in The Leader, a neighborhood newspaper, in magazines and numerous times online. I also entered and won a contest to have a story included in a humorous book about aging. It can be purchased on Amazon.

So you have now heard the confessions of a wanton word lover. You could even say a word harlot, a word-hussy, a promiscuous, indiscriminate lover of words. I am guilty. I regret nothing.

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[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]

What It's Like to be Dying: Take Two

Seven months ago, almost to the day, I wrote a blog post titled, What It's Like to Be Dying:

”You could say at this point that death and I are dating,” I wrote then. “I think we've made it to the holding hands stage. We're open to each other.”

That feels true to me for that moment in time. It's different now. What has changed is that doctors have advised me that I have fewer than six months left and since March, I have been living with body pains that while not of the screeching variety, require over-the-counter medication to get me through the day.

I know, we old people who are dying of this or that are supposed to be stoic about it and in general, people would be happier if we didn't remind them of what we are going through, what the outcome will be.

Well, bugger that.

I have always used writing to figure out what I think or believe and at this stage, there is a diminishing number of productive hours in a day. So here we are – an exercise in working out my thoughts and a blog post, all in one.

If you don't already know this, let me be the first to tell you: dying people – either me or any of those whose words about their dying I have read – have no grand insights to pass on to the rest of us. It's not like dying people can peek over the edge of the abyss and describe what's there.

When I can think dispassionately about dying, I understand that it is a law of nature. No one, no living thing escapes.

For many years, I have watched spring lilacs begin to wilt so beautifully it could break your heart, then droop and die – just as beautifully. Tulips and daffodils too, in their time. At the end of his life, my cat Ollie withdrew to a cupboard in the dining room hutch. He chose it on his own; all I did was supply a soft, warm blanket for him to lie on.

Sometime soon now it will be my turn. I'm guessing at this point that I am in the wilting stage. Dying is my daily companion.

It is almost subconscious that I keep an eye on myself, alert to new physical symptoms but more importantly, checking for new thoughts and feelings, wondering if perhaps as time grows shorter that I will find acceptance and (dare I hope?) even joy in letting go.

Two or three times a week, I am caught unaware, suddenly so terribly sad at the prospect of leaving. Life here has been good. Sure, there were difficult times although I see recently how I overplayed some of them to myself. But we do the best we can at the time.

Some days now I'm angry, shaking a metaphorical fist at the universe. I'm fortunate that I've never been a “why me” kind of person but I have a lot of “why now” inside me. Just as the world faces several simultaneous catastrophes like nothing else in my lifetime, I'm expected to go? Now? Really?

Adding them up, there are the physical difficulties, profound sadness, anger – and add in powerlessness.

I have no weapons against the inevitable except my own fortitude (unreliable, these days) and Oregon's Death With Dignity Law. I have always been in favor of it but only in theory. Now it's real and I will soon write a blog post about that.

But for the time being, daily life goes on and the larger amount of it is good – comfortable, interesting, even joyful. Just not every day.

I like living even with the restrictions of my age and health, and our stay-at-home life due to COVID-19. You could say that at this point death and I have had our first few kisses and are moving forward even if it is in fits and starts.


Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

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We were taught in English class at school that we shouldn’t begin sentences with a conjunction. Great writers learn those rules and break them whenever it’s necessary.

Today I’m breaking the rule too, at least musically, and featuring songs that begin with “And”. I might cheat and include those whose titles start with that word, even if the songs don’t.

If you think I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel with this one, I can assure you that the barrel is virtually bottomless when it comes to silly ideas for columns.

The first is from that vastly under-rated group THE ZOMBIES.


They were one of the more interesting bands from the sixties. They had a couple of hits and released a couple of albums but weren’t supported by their record company so that after their first couple of hits, the record buying public weren’t able to hear their music.

Now they have been reassessed and all their music re-released to considerable acclaim. One of their initial hits is Tell Her No.

♫ The Zombies - Tell Her No

There are three excellent versions of the song And When I Die. They are Laura Nyro, who wrote the song, Peter, Paul and Mary, which was the first I heard and the one you were probably expecting, BLOOD SWEAT AND TEARS.

Blood, Sweat & Tears

This was from their second album, the first with David Clayton-Thomas as lead singer. Before that, Al Kooper, who formed the band, did the honors. However, by this stage he had moved on to other projects like solo albums, producing, session work and so on.

Blood, Sweat & Tears - And When I Die

The song She Cried was written by Greg Richards and Ted Daryll. Ted was the first to record the song. It became a hit when Jay and the Americans tackled it. The song is a quintessential teenage angst song. Those two versions are pretty mournful, so I’ve gone with DEL SHANNON instead.

Del Shannon

Okay, Del’s take isn’t all that jolly either but it’s better than the other two.

♫ Del Shannon - She Cried

TALKING HEADS was formed in New York by a bunch of former art students, most notably David Byrne.

Talking Heads

It’s interesting how many bands were started by all or mostly ex-art students – I guess they could create their own album covers.

About the only notice I took of the Heads at the time was the song Once in a Lifetime. I’ve since come to appreciate them more as time has passed. The song of theirs that fits our category is And She Was.

♫ Talking Heads - And She Was

Paul McCartney wrote the song And I Love Her about his relationship with Jane Asher as things were going well with them at that stage. It appeared in THE BEATLES’ first film A Hard Day's Night.

The Beatles

John wrote most of the music for the film as Paul was somewhat distracted by Jane. He made up for it later.

♫ Beatles - And I Love Her

The London Olympic Committee used the song Jerusalem in the opening ceremony of their Games. This was so excruciatingly awful it set my teeth on edge.

I’m not perverse enough to use that version – I wouldn’t inflict it on you, but more to the point, I wouldn’t inflict it on myself. After all, I’d have to listen to it first.

There are many far superior versions out there – all of them, in fact. This is a version sung by four clean cut young men who sing for a British program called Songs of Praise but I don’t know who they are. We’ll just have to make do with the music.

Oh, there seems to be some discussion about whether it’s a song or a hymn. Consensus seems to be falling on the side of song, so that’s what I’ll call it. The song was taken from a poem by William Blake, the strange but brilliant poet of the 18th and early 19th century. That’s him below.

William Blake

♫ Jerusalem by William Blake

DON MCLEAN would certainly have had a nice little earner from his song And I Love You So.

Don McLean

It’s become a “middle of the road” classic and pretty much everyone from Elvis on down has recorded it. However, Don did it first and he did it best.

♫ Don McLean - And I Love You So

The song Comme D’habitute was written by Jacques Revaux. Paul Anka heard it when he was holidaying in France and got together with Jacques and others and did a deal. Paul wrote English lyrics and called the song My Way.

He rang Frank Sinatra and suggested he might like to record it. Frank did just that and it became a mega-hit, so much so that Frank came to detest the song.

I’m with Frank; it’s a song I really, really don’t like. That is why I’m including what I think is the least worst version around, and boy, there are a lot of them. I can’t imagine there will be many who agree with my choice. Here is SID VICIOUS.

Sid Vicious

Sid was once the bass player for the Sex Pistols. His skill with the instrument was so rudimentary that their guitarist played bass on the records, and they often employed another bass player to play behind a curtain at live gigs.

♫ Sid Vicious - My Way

It’s surprising that HOYT AXTON didn’t become far better known.

Hoyt Axton

After all, he had a fine singing voice, wrote terrific songs and was an actor of considerable ability as well. That’s the way show biz works, I guess, the deserving don’t always get the acclaim. Anyway, here’s Hoyt with Evangelina.

♫ Hoyt Axton - Evangelina

There’s an obvious and clichéd way to finish off and I’m going to go with it. THE BEATLES with The End, their second song today. Well, if they can’t break the rules, who can?

The Beatles

Okay, I’m cheating a bit as there are a few “Oh yeahs” and the like before the song itself kicks in. I like to think of that as introduction. It’s not really a song, more a songlet, one of several from “Abbey Road”.

♫ The Beatles - The End



In the past week, President Donald Trump suggested that 75-year-old Martin Gugino, the man who was seriously injured at the hands of the Buffalo, New York, police for no reason, was an Antifa provocateur. And he has accused others whose politics he doesn't like of being members of Antifa.

Antifa stands for Anti-fascist, is not an organization but a diverse group of unaffiliated people who oppose fascism. There is no main Antifa group.

Last week, Washington Post columnist, Alexandra Petri, published a list of ways to figure out if people's grandparents had become Antifa agents. That would be people like you and me. Here are a few of her suggestions:

“Is always talking on the phone with an “aunt” you have never actually met in person. Aunt TIFA????”

“Always walking into rooms and claiming not to know why he walked into the room. Likely.”

“Suddenly, for no reason, will appear or pretend to be asleep.”

“Carries peppermints (chemical irritant?) in purse at all times.”

See more of Ms. Petri's suspicions of what behaviors might indicate an old person is an Antifa agent at the Washington Post.


It wasn't always that way. Smiles in the earliest photographs are rare and even in paintings, people rarely smiled until the 18th century. We are so accustomed to somber-looking people in early photos that this one of a 19th century, young girl, O-o-dee. of the Kiowa people in the Oklahoma Territory is almost shocking.


TGB reader Nana Royer sent this video of Colin Jones discussing the “smile revolution” in 18th century Paris, which broke with centuries-old conventions to introduce the white-toothed smile we know today.

What prompted this change? Jones attributes it to the emergence of dental science and changing technologies of mouth care, and the development of a cult of sensibility, subjectivity and politeness. Listen to him explaining:

You can read more here and here.


The increase in the number of new coronavirus infections and deaths this week in the United States has skyrocketed. Some other countries have done an amazing job in fighting back and New Zealand, as of last Monday, is the first to be down to zero cases. Here is Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern:

You can read more about how they did it here and here. Shouldn't the U.S. government be studying how New Zealand accomplished this?


There is a store in San Diego called the Art of Play shop. It is full of puzzle boxes, illusion, amazing playing cards and all sorts of other puzzle toys.

In the video below from Atlas Obscura's Show and Tell series, co-owner of the store, Dan Buck, gives a tour of the secret room and some of the most interesting puzzles. It's longer than I usually post – 13 minutes – but I sure enjoyed it.

You can find out more at the Art of Play website.


What can you do but weep. I cannot imagine what evil lives in the heart of the man who is our president. The Washington Post and other publications reported last week:

”Hunters will soon be allowed to venture into national preserves in Alaska and engage in practices that conservation groups say are reprehensible: baiting hibernating bears from their dens with doughnuts to kill them and using artificial light such as headlamps to scurry into wolf dens to slaughter mothers and their pups.

“With a final rule published Tuesday in the Federal Register, the Trump administration is ending a five-year-old ban on the practices, which also include shooting swimming caribou from a boat and targeting animals from airplanes and snowmobiles. It will take effect in 30 days.”

How is it that this not a crime?


In last Wednesday's blog post, I listed a few of the modern conveniences that make me grateful to live now rather than in the 19th century or before. It was worse that I realized back then.

Maybe with the coronavirus, we are getting the smallest idea of what life was like in 19th century cities. From National Geographic.


In my cancer/COPD predicament these days, I don't have the energy to do much cooking anymore. But if I still did, I would like these kitchen hacks.


The U.S. Federal Trade Commission this week released data on scams being perpetrated related to the COVID-19 virus.

”Since January 1, people across the U.S. have made 91,808 COVID-19-related reports to the FTC. Most of these reports involve online shopping, with travel and vacations coming in second,” reports the FTC.

“The online shopping reports are mostly about people ordering products that never arrive, while most of the travel and vacation reports relate to refunds and cancellations. So far, people have reported losing $59.27 million on these and other COVID-related fraud reports.”

What is the matter with people who do such things as these? You can check out statistics for your state here.


A cat investigates the arrival of a treadmill in his home. When I started watching this video, I thought four-plus minutes would be a bit much. Not so. I enjoyed it clear to the end.

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Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog.

Living and Dying in Interesting Times Plus The Alex and Ronni Show

There is no doubt that since the day Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the United States in January 2017, we have been living in interesting times. But I don't think even Trump can say we have been living in the best of times.

Well, maybe some Republicans would, but given his incessant whining about perceived slights, not Trump. It may be that he has never had a good day in his entire life.

Me? As much as I have been stunned almost daily by Trump's terrible acts – particularly the environmental ones – I have never been disinterested.

Just when you think he will never do anything more foul than praising white supremacists, neo-Nazis and armed militia groups in Charlottesville as “very fine people,” he surpasses that by miles speculating that a 75-year-old protester, who was seriously injured by Buffalo police, deliberately provoked the officers and faked his injuries.

With Trump, it is always a case of his saying things so awful that we cannot look away. The huge demonstrations and inept (at best) White House responses over the death of George Floyd give me hope that something big is happening and that this year's election will be way too interesting to miss, however it turns out.

Alas. I want to be here for it but I don't have a lot of confidence that I will make it that long. Do me a favor, please. If I'm not here on 3 November, have a celebratory drink for me. Or a bit of cry if that is what is called for instead.

Look at what I found hanging around on the web. It is a screen shot from a previous Alex and Ronni Show in the summer of 2019 when my hair had not yet grown in after I lost it to chemotherapy. I had forgotten that I looked pretty good with a bald head.


In this week's episode, recorded on Tuesday, what you'll see is a couple of old folks talking to themselves as though no one would be watching. A little of this and that and some mention of these extraordinary times we are living in.

Daily Life When Time is Short

The carpeting in this apartment had needed replacing for awhile. I had been working up to getting it done when I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017. Because I did not expect to live more than a year, I couldn't see any good reason to spend a moment of that time or money on carpeting.

Three years later now, they say I'm eligible for hospice (a euphemism for you have fewer than six months left) and however shabby it looks, I really do not care a whit about new carpeting.

Priorities change pretty quickly when the doctors say you don't have long to live.

Some people in my predicament make bucket lists. Two people have even asked me (in jest, I hope, but I can't be sure) if I've started working on mine. Certainly not. And I have always disliked the idea so much I might never forgive screenwriter Justin Zackham for giving us that ubiquitous phrase.

Instead and without putting much thought to it, I simplify daily life. Or, perhaps what I mean is that I have followed new inclinations as they have appeared and continue them if they serve me well enough.

A week or so ago, I was enjoying how comfortable sweat pants are and wondered why I have only one pair. I could use a couple more in different colors, I thought. Then I remembered: Oh, right. I won't be here a whole lot longer so what's the point.

Except when I change the linen, I don't make the bed anymore. You would be surprised how exhausting that is with severe COPD so I skip it now. I don't like seeing an unmade bed when I walk into the room but it's an easy tradeoff to losing my breath and heaving for air.

During my first two or three television jobs on local morning shows in New York City in the 1970s, I was usually the politics and cooking producer. I got to work with such luminaries of the era's culinary world as Julia Child when she was a guest, Craig Claiborne, James Beard once, Burt Wolf and others. I learned a lot from them and enjoyed cooking ever after.

Until now. Not long ago, my interest just dropped away.

It pains me to admit this but after a lot of trial and error and thrown-out food, I rely on the only two frozen meals from the supermarket that I consider edible. They are necessary some evenings when I'm too tired for the effort involved to cook even the simplest dinner.

At this point, I don't worry about healthy food or balanced meals. I'm concerned about the number of calories to keep up my weight and I don't care where they come from. Ice cream plays large part now that the weather is warming up.

Occasionally I use food delivery but it's a habit I never developed BC (before Cancer, COPD, Coronavirus – take your pick) and have not been able to work up an interest now.

As I've discussed here before, until my inclinations lean otherwise, I will continue to write this blog and even though I appear to be slower at it than in the past, it doesn't fill even my much shortened days.

It's not that there is a scarcity of things to do. There is a lot of information to pull together so my affairs are not in too much disarray when I die. I'm not eager for that work, but it needs to be done.

There are books to read, a dozen or more as yet unopened ones, plus the old favorites I would like to at least dip into again if not entirely re-read. But I haven't worked out how to choose. I dither - while time slips away.

There are also the shelves and shelves and shelves of philosophers and other kinds of thinkers, a lifetime's effort to find answers for the big questions. Maybe there are ideas there that would mean something different at age 79 and on the verge of dying than in the prime of life at 20 or 30 or 40. How to choose? Don't look to me for an answer.

A larger number of TGB readers than I would have guessed have asked about making this blog into a book. Just this week, Millie Garfield's son, Steve, emailed with information on how to easily do that online. It's a good idea that I appreciate but I doubt I will find the energy. The smallest things, these days, take more effort than I can muster.

Here are just a few things that make me grateful to be this old and unwell in the 21st century and not the 19th:

Washers and dryers
Stoves and refrigerators
Indoor running hot and cold water
Indoor toilets
Central heating and air conditioning

Think of how hard everyday life would be without them. I never appreciated until now how exhausting getting through each day must have been throughout history until a hundred or so years ago. No wonder people generally died younger than we do.

There must be others of you reading this who are going through similar changes.

A TGB READER STORY: OK Boomers, It’s Time to Step Up

By Kathy Kaiser who blogs at Aging

There’s been a lot of discussion about “OK, Boomer,” which can be read as a cynical, condescending brush-off of older people and their views.

A younger generation would like to blame us for all the ills of the world. Why didn’t we do something about climate change when there was still time to alter its course? And while younger people are struggling to pay off college debts and find affordable housing, the older generation ostensibly lives in comfort, having paid off mortgages a long time ago and carrying no college debt.

The truth, of course, is more complicated, as many seniors go into retirement with little savings and big medical bills. Also, when we were younger, many baby boomers were active politically: demonstrating against the war, starting environmental groups and recycling programs, joining civil rights protests and agitating for equal pay.

It’s true that in the olden days we lived in a world of apparent abundance (cheap housing and fuel, for example) that we took for granted. We could have - and should have - done more to make this world a better place, but who knew things would turn out so badly?

I can understand young people’s resentments, yet I think the world, which grows more polarized each day, needs us elders. Not because we’re wiser than other generations, but because by the time we reach old age, most of us have gotten rid of our egos.

Those of us who are no longer in the work world don’t have to prove ourselves anymore or defend our reputations. At our age, when we’ve lost so much - friends, spouses, good health and/or careers - we know that human relationships are what’s left, what gives meaning to our lives. If we’ve gained any wisdom at all through our long lives, it’s how to be a decent human being.

One of the advantages of being an older person is that we’re not perceived as threatening; in fact, we’re more likely seen as irrelevant. More than younger generations, we have the opportunity (time, for one thing) and capability of making this world a better place - in whatever way we can.

It can be something as simple as starting conversations with those we perceive as different or hostile; at the very least, we can soften harsh conversations by bringing gentleness or humor into the situation. At our age, we don’t have to worry that we’re making fools of ourselves, because the world already sees us that way. As elders, the worst that could happen is that we’re ignored.

Maybe we didn’t create this world - the worst we did was sit back and ignore situations that needed fixing - but we have some responsibility for making it a better place - if only for the generations to follow or to see the world we loved - and that nurtured us – survive.

If not us, who? If not now, when? Because we’re running out of time - both for ourselves and the planet.

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[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]

Something Big is Happening and It is Not the Virus

(Because I needed a free day on Sunday, this was written early on Saturday so it doesn't reference anything important that may have taken place on the weekend.)

What an extraordinary time of political activism we are living through. Like so many others, I was struck speechless last Monday at the president's ludicrous Bible walk which was preceded by law enforcement firing rubber bullets and pepper-spraying peaceful protesters while also hitting them with shields and batons to clear the path for dear leader and his entourage.

Taking a moment today to re-watch the spectacle of the stone-faced president waving a Bible around to no apparent purpose, I saw a man who looked weak and pathetic.

Nothing he did during the rest of the week changed that impression.

What did make an impression on me are the hundreds of thousands – in total, probably millions - of protesters in dozens of cities and towns marching day after day, transforming themselves into a powerful new movement even in the face of a deadly virus and police in some cities determined to thwart them by force.

In the process, Black Lives Matter has become the anthem that cannot be ignored. Remarkably, too, the crowds of demonstrators against racism are a lovely mixed bag – black and white and brown, young and old.

It was, of course, the asphyxiation death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis that set off the protests which have now become a international phenomenon.

Some of us who hang out at this blog took part in the protests of the 60s – the anti-Vietnam War marches, the civil rights and women's movements. And here we are again – the work has only just begun and the determination in the streets has become a powerful force.

This time, I am too old and too ill to be out in the streets and I am sorry for that. I would like to be there but I think this kind of political action has always been young people's work for the most part. It is their turn this time.

But they have my full and heartfelt support. (If you would like to donate to help the protesters with hotlines, bail funds, legal aid, medical bills for inevitable accidents, etc., Paper magazine has a list of links to donation sites for cities throughout the United States.)

A few changes have already been made. Some municipalities have banned tear gas and choke holds by the police. There is polling, tentative so far, that the protests are having a negative impact on President Trump's approval rating. It's a start.

Meanwhile, apparently believing peaceful protesters present a grave danger to the president in the White House, that new metal fence behind which he cowers has been enlarged to include the entirety of Lafayette Park. DCist reports:

”By Thursday afternoon, construction crews had used additional fencing and concrete barricades to block off all entrances to Lafayette Park, the Ellipse and other open spaces around the White House that have hosted First Amendment protests for more than 100 years.”

That man sure does love his fences.

Meanwhile, the White House and Attorney General William Barr have been squabbling over which of them gave the order to forcefully disburse the peaceful demonstrators in front of the White House for the president's Bible walk.

(I was particularly dismayed at the helicopter with a red cross painted on its belly flying low over the area to help chase away the protesters that Monday evening. The red cross, by Geneva Convention, is used on vehicles, buildings and people to indicate humanitarian and medical workers to protect them from attack in battle situations.)

I'm not the only person who believes something bigger than we have seen in a long while is happening and that Trump's distasteful Bible walk was a turning point. Somehow it was enough to make a whole lot of people believe there is much hard work to be done, the time is now and that we the people can do it.

What do you think?